Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.“ Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in.
His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations)
Jesus wants us to notice the father in the story of the Prodigal Son. Jesus wants us to ponder in our hearts, “Is this what God is like? A God who throws parties? A God who celebrates the found sheep?” Precisely.
The Father of Jesus is strange. The love of the Father is so much broader than anything we could ever ask for or imagine. And if we can’t accept that God, if we can’t come to open ourselves in humility to this revelation of Jesus and allow God to come to us on God’s terms and not ours, well, then we really don’t know the God of Jesus Christ.
Isn’t it interesting that the Catholic Church puts this reading on the Fourth Sunday of Lent? Lent is a penitential season, full of time for us to reflect on our brokenness and sinfulness. In the wisdom of the Church, this gospel enters in and Jesus says, “Pay attention now. Don’t get lost. Stay focused on God. God is the God of lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons and daughters. God’s love is unpredictable, overwhelming and prodigal.”
And the invitation to us is to accept it, to accept in joyful resignation that we are not God. God is grand and God is so full of love and generosity that we cannot predict how God operates. We want to be in relationship with that God. And Jesus says, “If so, follow me. Live my life. Step into my story. Be my companion.” May that be the grace we experience this week as we consider the story of the Prodigal Son. We shift our focus from the two sons to the Father, and we remember that he throws great parties and that he is strange and his ways are not always our ways. Thank God for that.
—Fr. Patrick McGrath, SJ, President of Loyola Academy
Lord, we pray in thanksgiving that your ways are not always our ways. Help us to realize that you are a God of surprises, always faithful, always entwined in the details of our life. Grant us the grace to say “Yes” as your invite us to follow you — even if we are unsure where you are and how you are leading us.
—The Jesuit Prayer Team